Ninja Turtles’ pop culture is inundated with references to Konami’s two arcade games – one aptly named The Arcade Game, the other Turtles in Time. Their appeal survived long enough for toy manufacturer NECA to produce an action figure line based on their sprites. If an arcade still exists, they’re considered incomplete without the duo’s glorious four-player footprint.
In video games, the Turtles subsist on brawlers, a genre where the characters can whack the opposing Foot Clan soldiers with their weapons ad nauseum. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello aren’t typecast – as a property, they were born into this genre. Developers are trapped, and new games frequently make a go at capturing Turtles in Time‘s long-standing success.
Under Konami’s early care, the games weren’t gifted with narratives or depth. Their shtick was personality-driven combat. Sell impact and create the characters. All of Konami’s high-end beat-em-ups did it. Playing Turtles meant slinging Foot toward the screen. It meant blowing up barrels, dodging unexpected cars, whacking fire hydrants, and ducking thrown manhole covers. Once thrown, the team could fall into said manholes for a touch of cartoon comedy.
In some 30 years since, developers (Konami included) need to ensnare players by keeping those arcade memories intact. With few exceptions, most have failed. Konami’s listless early ’00s output was a wreck. UbiSoft gave up and re-released the Arcade Game and remade of Turtles in Time – and it was still poor in comparison. In 2016, it’s Platinum Games’ messy Mutants in Manhattan. After success last year marrying Transformers to their cartoon bindings, Platinum attempts to bond the Turtles with their comic aesthetic and “cowabunga” comedy.
Platinum designs action as they always have – the persistence of speed is designed for fluidity. That works in certain contexts. Not here. Action bleeds out from a swirl of distracting colors, unexplained glowing weapons, and crowded chaos.
Mutants in Manhattan pines for nostalgia – lifting dialog from Turtles in Time verbatim – yet fails to understand where the nostalgia comes from or why. Although the license traps these characters in a predictable routine, this doesn’t mean it’s cause for derivative form.
Turtles in Time matched combos to each Turtle – Mikey swung his nunchucks with enthusiasm, Raph angrily stabbed opposition, Don technically considered his motions, and Leo used practiced strikes. Mutants in Manhattan barely tries and strikes lacks potency. Fights are allergic to a sense of impact.
Animation shows the teens gritting their teeth and furrowing their brows. In combat, Don swings a bo listlessly and Leo hacks with his swords. Foot fall over and explode without caricature. Bosses Bebop and Rocksteady come armed with a chainsaw and sledgehammer (respectively) yet their motions carry little weight. Attacks are comprised of flailing motions rather than celebrating character.
Once you’ve let go of the Turtles’ personality, there’s nothing left to fall back on.